Thousands still stranded as empty planes leave Thai airport

Empty planes were flying out of Thailand's main international airport today while thousands of tourists remained stranded in the country.

Around 30 planes flew out of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok yesterday and another 50 were expected to leave today, according to Sereerat Prasutanont, director of the Airports Authority of Thailand.

Some of the planes are scheduled to fly via protest-free airports in the country picking up stranded travellers along the way but others are simply returning home empty.

The move still leaves thousands of Britons stranded in Thailand and caught in the impasse between protesters and the government as demonstrators entered their eighth day of occupation of Bangkok's main airports.

The demonstrators, members of the People's Alliance for Democracy, accuse the government of being a puppet of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

They occupied Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport on Tuesday as part of a campaign to force current prime minister Somchai Wongsawat from office. The following day they seized Don Muang airport.

Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell appeared to rule out using government-chartered flights, saying that they would not help people get home any quicker.

He told Radio 5 Live yesterday: "The key issue is the fact the two airports in Bangkok are closed and therefore you've effectively got planes stacking up and not being able to get slots."

The Government has urged Thai authorities, the army and protesters to work together to resolve the crisis quickly.

Thai media suggests that as many as 100,000 tourists have been stranded as a result.

And the situation appeared to deteriorate over the weekend with reports of a series of explosions injuring dozens of protesters.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "The situation in Thailand remains tense and we are following events very closely.

"We regret the violence surrounding the protests and have reiterated to the government, the army, the demonstrators, and others in Bangkok, that all parties need to work to resolve the crisis, respecting the rule of law and the country's democratic institutions.

"Bangkok's two main airports remain closed but airlines have been able to arrange flights and transfers to and from alternative airports.

"Some British nationals have been able to fly out but not in the necessary numbers.

"We have continued our consultations with airlines and Thai authorities today and action is being stepped up to enable people to travel in greater numbers, for example via Chiang Mai."

He added that British Embassy staff were regularly visiting British nationals stuck in Bangkok and providing consular help such as refreshing supplies of prescription medication.

Among those managing to fly out was the pregnant wife of England rugby League captain Jamie Peacock.

Faye Peacock and the couple's four-year-old son Lewis boarded a flight to Stockholm and will return to the UK this morning.

The England and Leeds Rhino player said: "I am looking forward now to having a great Christmas with my family and the safe arrival of our second child in the New Year."

Mrs Peacock is due to arrive at Manchester airport at 9am today.

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